Nick That 1da is a DMV-based producer who opened my eyes to the deep SP-303 and 404 subculture that exists online. When my sister gave me a 303 as a Christmas gift several years ago, I looked up the sampler on YouTube. Nick was one of the first people I saw using it and I’ve followed his work ever since.
Nice has an unrivaled passion for listening to and creating music. He also makes some of my favorite live beats and is a natural teacher who loves sharing his production knowledge with others.
Here he breaks down the origins of his 303 use, his Sample Sundays ritual, and his appreciation for mobile production. This interview was originally published in 2013 and was edited slightly from its original length.
Gino: Your first sampler was a SP-1200. When you started making beats was that the only piece of equipment you were using?
Nick Tha 1da: I was just rocking Cool Edit and the SP-1200. I’m still an avid fan of Cool Edit. Shout outs to my Cool Edit fam, ’cause I know Apollo Brown gets down with it still. I don’t know if 14KT still uses it, but he can make a full beat off of Cool Edit. After my upstairs neighbor had a fire, I had to get rid of the SP-1200. I found out that Damu the Fudgemunk got that same SP. It’s a small beat world.
Gino: Do you ever exclusively make beats in Cool Edit?
Nick Tha 1da: Before I got any hardware, that’s how I learned. You just copy and paste. You’re working with everything from micro-chopping to straight loops. Peter Quistgard was the person whose name you had to enter in order to unlock Cool Edit after you downloaded it. Whoever he is he gets big up because he sparked a whole revolution of Cool Edit producers.
“I learned how to chop so small on the 1200. I’d take any piece I could and add filters or make it trail off so that I could extend the sample.”
Gino: It seems like when the fire happened, you changed your setup to Cool Edit and a 303 because the 303 was inexpensive.
Nick Tha 1da: That was the action plan after the fire. I wanted to find a way to start making a whole bunch of beats again and not cry too much over my situation. I have a secret love affair with the ASR-10 and I said, “Yo, I’m going to do whatever I can to find an ASR-10.” Then my pops found me a used 303 at Guitar Center and ever since then it was on.
Gino: I’ve seen videos where you do some serious micro-chopping. I’ve also heard beats you’ve produced where it sounds more like a straight loop. When you’re working on the 303 and 404, which method do you prefer?
Nick Tha 1da: I like to chop. I mentioned this in the Behind the Beats interview, but I learned how to chop so small on the 1200. I’d take any piece I could and add filters or make it trail off so that I could extend the sample. By the time I got to the 303, I was like, “Yeah, no problem, I can flip this any way I want.” This is me giving away a secret, but the key to the 303 is that the metronome throws you off. If you can do a beat completely live and keep your timing, you can actually use more sample time and flip it and all of that. A lot of times quantization makes it sound a little bit more rigid and your samples don’t come out the way you want. I’m not saying I get everything on the first take, I gotta do it a couple of times.
“Between the 303 and the 404 you don’t need anything else. I just did a show a few days ago with no computer, no turntables, no PC, just the two systems themselves. ”
Gino: I’m curious how much of your live shows can be internally sequenced in the 303 or 404. Do you need a computer or anything else to help you out?
Nick Tha 1da: Not at all. The beautiful difference with the 404 is that it holds so much more. Between the 303 and the 404 you don’t need anything else. I just did a show a few days ago with no computer, no turntables, no PC, just the two systems themselves. Basically all I had loaded up was a couple of drum kits. I always keep drum kits loaded on there just in case I want to do live beats or make a quick pattern. Then I run off the pattern and do all of my chops. It gets no more simple than that. I feel like it’s just a muscle and the more you practice, the more efficient you get.
Gino: How many hours a day would you say you have to practice to get to that level?
Nick Tha 1da: I make beats every day. Got to. I split my time between doing all things hip hop. If I’m working on a theatrical show for somebody with a hip-hop soundtrack, I’m working on that for three to four hours. Then I’m working on beats for another four hours. Another night I’m DJing here in DC for like six hours. Then after that, more beats. I probably spend at least eight hours a day.
“I’ll break it up and have days or mornings where I just work on drums and nothing else. That way I don’t feel like I’m too stuck in a box trying to complete a beat.”
Gino: Wow. That is serious dedication. Are you more of an early morning or late night person.
Nick Tha 1da: You never know when inspiration will hit, but I’m definitely a night owl. Sometimes I’ll get in at three in the morning from DJing and I just can’t sleep yet because I’ve been playing “Ruff Ryder’s Anthem” all night. (Laughs) Or “Simon Says” by Pharaoh Monch. So I still have my energy up. I’ll use that time to make something until I wind down. A lot of times I’ll break it up and have days or mornings where I just work on drums and nothing else. That way I don’t feel like I’m too stuck in a box trying to complete a beat. I also have something called Sample Sundays where I pretty much spend all Sunday digging through records and listening to samples. I’ll play the whole record, front to back, all day.
Gino: You seem so comfortable with the 303 and 404. Are you ever tempted to branch out to another machine?
Nick Tha 1da: Those two are my favorites. The funny is that I just got put on to the 404 a few years ago. I was using the 303 exclusively for a minute, but the buttons started sticking on me. Out of the eight pads, four or five weren’t sticking. I started making beats and I call them the four button beats. They sound real simple, but they were being made with what I had available.
“If I have six batteries and headphones, I’m on the airplane, I’m on the bus, I’m in a rice field in Cambodia, and it don’t matter. I’m making beats.”
So I went to a recording studio session for one of my albums and UnOwn was there. He’s done a lot of work with Oddissee, he’s part of a group called the Jazz Addixx, and he did production for a whole bunch of people in the area. UnOwn was like, “Man, I just got the SP-404sx, but I got this regular 404. I’m not doing anything with it if you want to hold onto it for a minute.” The memory cards for the 404 are easier to find, cheaper, and they’re larger gigabyte cards. It has a built in mic which is awesome. You can beat box into the machine. It’s battery powered, so if I have six batteries and headphones, I’m on the airplane, I’m on the bus, I’m in a rice field in Cambodia, and it don’t matter. I’m making beats.
To answer your earlier question, the 303 and 404 are what I love, but I made a personal mantra to myself to be able to sit in front of a machine make a beat on anything. I’ve been teaching myself to make beats on Maschine, Logic, and all of the above. But I’m never gonna stop using the 303, 404, and Cool Edit.
Gino: When you’re on an airplane, train, or bus, do you get distracted by people looking at you?
Nick Tha 1da: Not at all. I try to just stay in the zone. Just so they don’t think I’m crazy I’ll be like, “Yo, you want to listen to it and see what I’m doing over here?” if they seem really interested. A lot of times the youth are more accepting than the older folks.
“The 303 and 404 are what I love, but I made a personal mantra to myself to be able to sit in front of a machine make a beat on anything.”
Gino: You recently started rocking the 404 as well as the 303. I’m curious what your opinion is of the different effects and features of the 303 and 404. Sometimes a feature that people love will be removed from an upgraded SP.
Nick Tha 1da: Well, going from the 303 to the 404, Roland did make improvements, and that’s what it’s all about. For instance, I really like the pitch adjuster of the 404 over the 303. The 303’s is absolute hot garbage. It makes it sound like you’re playing samples in a metal trash can. With the 404, if you mess with the knobs and adjust the drive and the resonance correctly, it’s the same exact sample, just in a different pitch. It doesn’t change any of the time stretching or any of that. I love that effect on the 404.
I never looked at the machines from a DJ point of view, I looked at them from more of a producer point of view. I was always more concerned with sequencing beats and how to clean up my chops so they cut off at the correct time. After I construct the beat, then I worry about the effects and all of that. The effects are awesome for doing live shows.
“I’m never gonna stop using the 303, 404, and Cool Edit.”
Gino: I saw in the Behind the Beats interview that you don’t pitch your records down when you are sampling them. Is that still the case?
Nick Tha 1da: I’d say 75% of the time they are the exact same speed that was played on the turntable. That’s for the simple fact that at one point, I wanted people to figure out what I was sampling. You have to remember in the late ’90s and early 2000s everybody was pitching up records. There’s nothing wrong with that, I’ve made plenty of beats like that too. But at the time I wasn’t putting these releases out, so I wasn’t worrying about sample clearances. I just kept it at the original tempo.
Gino: I’ve heard several producers talking about having a preference with sampling a 45 or a 12” versus sampling off of a LP because of the difference in sound quality. Do you have any preference, or is it just whatever song catches your ear?
Nick Tha 1da: Strictly albums. I like to play albums all the way through. Sometimes you find your best stuff in the middle of the song or at the end of the song. Songs are always hot when they have the sample straight in the front, but a lot of people miss out because they are just looking for samples instead of actually appreciating music. The way you’re sitting at home trying to make music, you gotta remember that somebody thirty years ago was in the same position. They wanted people to hear their music, not just skip through it. I don’t put out a beat CD for you to listen to the first three seconds of each track. I want you to listen to it.
“The 303’s is absolute hot garbage. It makes it sound like you’re playing samples in a metal trash can.”
Gino: That’s a great point and I think you’re the first person I’ve ever interviewed about sampling to make that point. The people that you are sampling from had the same dreams as you.
Nick Tha 1da: Musicians then had the same struggles that we go through today as an artist. I feel like once you have that real mutual respect and you can see where an individual is coming from, it translates in your music and it’s more organic. Know something about the artist, as opposed to saying, “I’m taking this Bob James” and you don’t even know who Bob James is or what groups he played in. I’m not saying you have to do that for everything you sample, but at least be knowledgeable. Show respect, the same way you want that respect.
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